Claims of land reform ‘success’ negated

By SW Radio Africa’s Alex Bell

03 June 2013

Professor Tony Hawkins speaks to SW Radio Africa’s Alex Bell about the misleading information in publications claiming the land reform programme was a success.

Claims by international academics that ZANU PF’s land grab campaign was a success, have been negated by a leading Zimbabwean economics professor, who has criticised these attempts at normalising the situation.

Professor Tony Hawkins was responding to recent publications, including a book, which attempt to paint the land ‘reform’ programme in a positive light. The book, Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land, was written by three scholars, including UK based Joseph Hanlon.

The research in the book and the subsequent articles Hanlon has authored is based on an assessment of three farms in Mashonaland Central during one month last year.

The research pays little attention to the inhumanity of the land grabs, ignoring the human rights abuses that took place and the illegality of the process. Instead the authors spoke to the ‘fast-track’ owners of the seized farms they visited and looked at their ‘successes’. The book details how black Zimbabweans have successfully “taken back their land,” and farms are returning to the positive production levels seen in the 1990s.

But these details are being criticised as an attempt to ‘sanitize’ what happened during the land seizures that began in 2000, as part of a wider campaign to clean-up ZANU PF’s image.

Professor Hawkins has since also countered what he called this “misleading and dangerous” information, in a paper published last month. He spoke to SW Radio Africa’s Alex Bell and explained his criticisms.

HAWKINS: The criticism I made of it is that I think they’ve not taken sufficient notice of the actual evidence, the published figures. They can dispute the published figures if they like but they don’t, it seems to me, to have taken enough notice of that. Secondly they looked at the agricultural sector in isolation from the rest of the economy and it was no coincidence that the economy went into steep recession at the same time as land reform took place so you can’t disconnect the two and they have tried do that. The third point that I was highly critical of was their total refusal to deal with the institutional side of it – the whole question of corruption and lack of accountability and lack of transparency and so on – but everyone knows what happened in the land reform programme and to pretend it didn’t, it seems to me to be misleading and dangerous. Particularly now that we have moved on to another form of land reform has been now applied to mining and elsewhere, and the same opaque fashion, lack of accountability, with one minister doing it pretty much on his own, the rest of the cabinet either ignorant or certainly not involved and so on. So I think those are the kinds of criticisms that I was making.

BELL: When you talk about some of the key aspects he has overlooked, the one of course has been the deindustrialisation that we’ve seen in Zimbabwe. What do you make of this oversight?

HAWKINS: Well if you look at the history of the Zimbabwe economy there was always very close integration between commercial agriculture and manufacturing. When you take or took commercial agriculture out of the equation which we did, then clearly there was going to be a knock-on effect on manufacture and the net result is here we are, 12 years, 13 years down the road, and we now require and are heavily dependent on one sector, mainly mining for 70% of our exports. Manufacturing exports are insignificant, agricultural exports are tobacco and a bit of sugar and that’s about it.

BELL: You also speak in your article then, Professor Hawkins, about the fact that according to statistics the land reform sparked a 40% decline in Zimbabwe’s GDP. Do you think Hanlon should have focussed a little bit more on these kinds of figures as well?

HAWKINS: Yes that’s exactly my point – that he was so taken up with writing about land that he lost sight of the bigger picture – what was the impact of land and one of the more interesting aspects of this is that, one of his co-authors Mrs Manjengwa has also recently published or been part of a report published by the Institute for Environmental Studies here in Harare which shows appallingly high levels of poverty – over 90% - in rural areas. Now if the land reform was working so well, how come we have such high levels of rural poverty? And this comes from the same author. I don’t know how she managed to bridge that gap – you’ll need to ask her that question because I couldn’t answer it. If land reform was working so well than we wouldn’t have very high levels of rural poverty so one set of “facts” in inverted commas, is obviously not right.

BELL: Very finally then Professor, what do you think the danger is of condoning what we’ve seen in the land reform as Hanlon appears to have done in his writing?

HAWKINS: Well I’m at a bit of a loss to understand quite why he was prepared to go that far. He did have a reputation as being a sort of believer in good governance and so on but he seems to of, in this book anyway and certainly in the article, seems to have been prepared to take the view that the end justified the means. It didn’t matter how many people got hurt, how many people were damaged, how many jobs were lost and so on and so on as long as the end result was that the land was taken back. Once you get to the stage of saying the end justifies the means, then all sorts of moral judgements come into the picture and you have to be very careful.

The full SW Radio Africa article can be read here: